Akram Aylisli

*New Developments*

Counterspeak podcast tells the story of Farewell, Aylis

The American Booksellers Association and the American Booksellers for Free Expression devoted their March 2019 Counterspeak podcast to Akram Aylisli’s story. Listen to the podcast here.

PEN America advocates for Akram Aylisli at the Embassy of Azerbaijan

Six years after Akram Aylisli’s books were burned in Azerbaijan, PEN America and translator Katherine E. Young visited the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Washington, DC, to mark the anniversary, demand an end to Aylisli’s persecution, and demonstrate, in Bulgakov’s words, that manuscripts don’t burn. Video here.

Words Without Borders names Farewell, Aylis one of eleven “groundbreaking works” from 2018

Find links to all eleven of Words Without Borders’ 2018 “groundbreaking works” here.

Farewell, Aylis launched in Washington, DC.

PEN America and Politics and Prose bookstore cosponsored a conversation between Akram Aylisli’s American translator, Katherine E. Young, and former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Richard Kauzlarich to mark the publication of Farewell, Aylis. Video of the January 2019 event can be found here and press coverage here. Akram Aylisli’s response to the book launch can be found here.

 

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In 2012 Azerbaijani writer Akram Aylisli (b. 1937) published the second novella of his trilogy Farewell, Aylis in the Russian literary magazine Druzhba narodov.  The publication of Stone Dreams (which depicts the real-life pogroms carried out by Azerbaijanis against Armenians as the Soviet Union broke apart, as well as the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century) set off a firestorm in Azerbaijan, where some perceived the work as unpatriotic, or worse. Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev stripped Aylisli of the title of “People’s Writer” and his presidential pension. Aylisli’s books were burned, his son and wife were fired from their jobs, and he received death threats.

 

Akram Aylisli books burning in Ganja RFL RE photo

Akram Aylisli’s books being burned in Ganja (photo courtesy of RFL/RE)

 

Aylisli’s case has been chronicled by The Washington Post, The Independent, The Guardian, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, Index on Censorship, and many others and championed by PEN International, Human Rights Watch, PEN America and other international human rights organizations. In 2014 supporters in Russia, the U.K, the U.S., and elsewhere nominated Aylisli for the Nobel Peace Prize (Aylisli Nobel nomination letter). Read PEN America’s January 2019 assessment of Akron Aylisli’s current situation in Azerbaijan and details of the pending legal proceedings against him here. Aylisli currently lives under de facto house arrest in Azerbaijan.

 

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To add your name to the online petition in support of Akram Aylisli, please visit this link.

 

 

Farewell, Aylis

 

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The three novellas of Farewell, Aylis take place over decades of transition in a country that rather resembles modern-day Azerbaijan. In Yemen, a Soviet traveler takes an afternoon stroll and finds himself suspected of defecting to America. In Stone Dreams, an actor explores the limits of one man’s ability to live a moral life amid conditions of sociopolitical upheaval, ethnic cleansing, and petty professional intrigue. In A Fantastical Traffic Jam, those who serve the aging leader of a corrupt, oil-rich country scheme to stay alive.

In 2017 Katherine Young was named a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Translation Fellow for her project to translate the entire trilogy of Aylisli’s novellas. The trilogy was published by Academic Studies Press in 2018. Farewell, Aylis also includes a new essay by Akram Aylisli that reflects on the political firestorm surrounding his novellas and his current situation as a de facto prisoner of conscience in Azerbaijan that was commissioned especially for the Academic Studies Press edition.

Katherine Young is available for readings from Farewell, Aylis and speaking engagements about the book. For more information and to schedule an appearance, please contact her directly using this form. To add your name to the online petition in support of Akram Aylisli, please visit this link.

To purchase your copy of Farewell, Aylis, please visit Academic Studies Press here or order from Politics and Prose here.

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PEN International Statement on Harassment of Akram Aylisli

 

This ludicrous case against Akram Aylisli has been ongoing for nearly three years. His persecution is another stark example of how the Azerbaijani authorities intimidate and harass critical voices. Justice delayed is justice denied. These farcical charges against him must be dropped immediately.

— Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International (read more of the December 2018 PEN International statement “Azerbaijan: Harassment of writer must end” here.)

 

Excerpts from Farewell, Aylis

 

Chapter One: The Curious Death of an Old Coat Check Girl, the Deadly Dangerous Joke of a Famous Artist, and the Party Card-Pistol
The condition of the patient just delivered to the trauma department of one of the major Baku hospitals was very serious.

They took the patient, who was lying unconscious on the gurney, along the very middle of the half-lit hospital corridor that stretched the length of the whole floor to the operating room, which was located in the other wing of the building. There were two women in white lab coats and two men, also in lab coats. The surgeon himself walked beside the gurney, a spare, silver-haired man of middling height, distinguished from his colleagues by his reserve, the compelling sternness of his face, and the particular cleanliness of his lab coat.

If there was anything unusual or seemingly incongruous in this ordinary scene of hospital life, it was the tragic humor in the appearance and behavior of the person who’d brought the patient to the clinic. That small, fidgety man of fifty-five to sixty whose small face was not at all in harmony with his enormous, round belly ran around the doctor constantly repeating the same thing over and over….

— Excerpt from Stone Dreams published in Words Without Borders (read more of this excerpt here).

For the first time in my life I understood clearly that my fate stands behind me. It’s mine, only mine, and no power of any kind over it has been given to anyone besides me…. Let some in my motherland think I’m not a writer: so be it. I don’t need honor or glory in a country where they burn books and a killer with an ax is elevated to the rank of hero.

— Excerpt from Akram Aylisli’s essay Farewell, Aylis published in the Los Angeles Review of Books (read more of this excerpt here).

 

Press Coverage of Farewell, Aylis

 

‘If the book finds an audience, finds its readers, in some way carries a resonance in some countries, then that is my power, immortality,’ [Aylisli] said. The authorities who have caused him so much trouble, he added, ‘know well that to physically destroy me is very easy, but morally they are powerless.’

— Joshua Kucera, “With English translation, controversial Azerbaijani novel to reach global audience,” Eurasianet.org (read full article here).

Aylisli provokes such anger among his compatriots because of his treatment of the conflict between Armenians and Azeris, which erupted during the collapse of the Soviet Union, first with killings and pogroms, and then as a full-scale war over the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Sporadic fighting continues to this day, and years of relentless propaganda has entrenched a culture of hate in both countries. More than any other writer in the region, Aylisli does not shy away from describing the brutal violence, political failure, and moral bankruptcy of his own side.

— Howard Amos, “Akram Aylisli: how one Azerbaijani writer dealt with a book burning campaign against him,” The Calvert Journal (read full article here).

[Farewell, Aylis] introduces American audiences to a singular voice of conscience and raises awareness of the challenges Azerbaijan has faced in establishing itself as an independent nation over the last thirty years.

— A. Raufoglu, “Akram Aylisli’s book presented in Washington,” Astna.biz, Turan Information Agency (read full article here).

[N]ot once have I regretted the three years spent translating [these novellas] and advocating for their author. And while it is unquestionably a rare and unique honor to work with an author who has literally put his art and his life on the line to call for tolerance, empathy, and understanding, what keeps me going is the beauty of the work, the humanity of the characters, and the joy of discovery on each and every reading.

— Katherine E. Young, “Akram Aylisli’s Literary Odyssey,” Words Without Borders (read full article here).

 

First Reviews for Farewell, Aylis

 

Set in a region where different languages, cultures, religions, ethnicities, and nationalities are tightly intertwined, and sometimes in horrifying tension, the stories come to life through seamless weavings of various layers of memories, dreams, deliriums, rumors, folktales, and realities…. Reading Farewell, Aylis is like sitting by the fire at night with the older men of the village and listening to their stories, which in truth are the oral history of a people and a region, which in truth could turn out to be prophecies of our own lives.

— Poupeh Missaghi, Asymptote (read full review here).

 

Advance Praise for Farewell, Aylis

 

Akram Aylisli has written of the tumultuous times in Azerbaijan on the eve of the Soviet Union’s collapse and in the immediate aftermath. Having lived through some of the chaos, corruption, ethnic strife, and regime change in Azerbaijan in the early 1990s, I can attest to the vividness and veracity of his storytelling. The next best thing to having been there yourself is to read this book.

— Richard Miles, former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, 1992–1993

In the fall of 2011, Akram Aylisli, Azerbaijan’s most important writer, turned in a manuscript that he’d been afraid to publish for six years – this book [Stone Dreams]…. The book had the effect of a bomb exploding. Aylisli was the first Turkic-language writer to write a novel about the Armenian genocide that was deep, personal, and full of suffering. The book allowed thousands of Azeris and Armenians to see one another sympathetically, without hatred. And a huge number of people on both sides are grateful to Aylisli for that.

— Shura Burtin, Russian journalist

In countries like Azerbaijan, speaking out against those in power or against the majority view is not just an act of bravery, it becomes an act of great personal risk. Akram Aylisli’s ‘non-traditional’ novel explores what connects us across countries and across religions to ask not just what it means to be human but also what it means to be humane—and is a timely reminder for those in supposedly democratic countries of the way in which the powerful use the language of nationalism and populism to demonize minorities. His evocations of the beauty of his homeland are set powerfully against the horrors committed on that land, making his writing both love sonnet and eulogy—the kind of love that Aylisi himself describes as a ‘clear mirror.’ The world needs writers like Aylisli who are willing to take the risk to hold up such a mirror.

— Jodie Ginsberg, CEO of Index on Censorship

Aylisli once again reminds us that human blood can only be cleansed with words and the banality of human history can only be cured through the long-brewed grace of great literature. Aylisli tries to bring the stories of cruelty to make one single human story where every one of us can see her- or himself.

— Ece Temelkuran, journalist and author of The Time of Mute Swans: a Novel

Reading Stone Dreams, I was lost between the world of Aylis and the world of Baku in which Sadai Sadygly exists in those final days of his life. Beaten up by a mob for trying to save an elderly Armenian, Sadai re-lives the part of his life when Azerbaijanis and Armenians lived together and regarded one another as fellow humans worthy of respect. For writing about this so honestly, Akram Aylisli and his family members have been persecuted by a regime that today shows no respect even for its own citizens and foments hatred against Armenians.

— Richard Kauzlarich, former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, 1994–1997

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